Wednesday, November 4, 2009

3 Hamburgs

I am really sad that there is no more half-naked dancing in my Tuesday dance class. When we have our final exam in two weeks, male students from another class will come to dance with a class of nearly entirely girls (there are two boys, but like half the class they never show up.) Entonces, there is still hope.

Tuesdays are one of my help the artists days. As I made my way to the ascensor, I was distracted by quite the ruckus on just past Plaza Victoria. (sabes que ruckus= ruction+rumpus?look what you learned today.) A protest, but on a grand scale. An epic protest, not like the animal rights one. The street was packed solid, one side to another. I walked and walked to find the end, and after 8 blocks I found it, but I expect it grew in size from when I saw it. In total, it was estimated that 14,000 municipality workers of all sorts marched in the first of three days of protect, common before the presidential election. The current population of my hometown of Hamburg is 4,167. So picture 3 Hamburgs marching through the port of Valparaíso. Not just marching, it was way more than marching. It was at times so well-organized that it seemed like a happy parade. Groups had matching flags and shirts and costumes, matching signs, coordinated routines, and every sound-making device imaginable. At other times, people ran at random, chanting in unison or otherwise shouting lots of things I did not always understand. If you picture just the horns and flags, and the surrounding streets with haphazard colorful houses and winding stairwells, the result is a Dr. Seuss-like image. It was not like that at all. There was an urgency here, a desperation. Carabineros, police, watched silently. They were surprisingly few and far between, and very collected. They had seen this before. Lines of drummers passed, tons of them. Other instruments too. Leaders shouting into megaphones, people in costumes dancing. A parade. Then more workers, dressed up as what I perceived to be as zombies, pushing garbage cans in a well-choreographed routine down the street, stopping to reform, yelling, repeat. I was mesmerized by the trash can dance, and actually stood for a while watching only that. I wonder how much the government listens to 14,000 protesters, if anything changes. The article in the newspaper was not until page 6; that many people, and the article is not on the front page, just a preview picture. This happens before every presidential election; it is not as big of news as I think. I wonder what the workers that are still at their jobs think. Some are always left behind so no one seeking job happens upon the vacated vicinity like a gold mine.


I am not sure how I ended up on a solo trip to Quillota, a small town in the interior, an hour from Viña and very close to Parque Nacional la Campana. This is not a popular destination, which in my opinion was even more reason to go there, as I hate being the same as the annoying English-speaking exchange students. I sought the Expo 2009, essentially a massive carnival with rows upon rows of stands selling almost anything, rides, and music. I had not traveled by myself on bus before. Not once. On micros yes, short trips, but to be honest, this was my first ever real bus trip. Hooray. I boarded an obnoxiously purple micro on Avenida España and was on my way. I have gathered the basic actions I need to survive a trip. My first was to ask the driver to tell me where to get off, as I had not a clue. Plan executed. Next was to get to the expo. Too far to walk: colectivo. Where do I find those? Asking. Luckily, I am good at this, and successfully found my way in.

I was fascinated by the many many cheap earrings, delicious junk food, and the vendors. I spent a ridiculous amount of time talking to whoever would listen, after all, I was alone, and they were interesting. The lady who sold me the copper earrings was fantastic, and obligingly explained the process, the origin of the wood, the meaning of the copper symbol, etc.

There was a guy selling old coins. This interested me for a number of reasons. There were old Chilean coins and coins from all over the world. I was well aware of my infinite lack of knowledge of how much these were actually worth, so I only bought really cheap ones for fear of getting ripped off. After my purchase, The vendor pulled out a massive and ancient-looking one from somewhere and proceeded to explain to me that it was from 84. What? The year 84. Does it actually say that? He showed me, and I could not read it. Year 84 antes cristo, AC. He showed me that too. Wait a minute, nothing from that time period actually reads AC antes cristo or BC before christ. Yes readers, you can be proud of this gringa for picking up on this so fast. I told him that it was not real, but he continued anyway. I don't remember the price, but it was something astronomical. Do people really believe that? This was the first time I had encountered someone who wanted to rip me off, or at least the first time I had picked up on it. Even though I bought the cheapest coins, I still walked away feeling a little ripped off. I think the ones I have are real, but maybe they are worth nothing, probably. That is ok, I would not have found them elsewhere and they are cool.

Then there was miel!! How grand! And how long I had been searching! It was weird looking though, darker than normal. I risked it anyway as it was inexpensive. Later on, I found it was rather liquidy and semi-processed, not quite the miel I had wanted. Hmm. I felt ripped off again despite my precaution. Does this only happen when I am by myself?

I had a moment of panic as I looked for a micro back to Viña. Where were they? I asked and walked and asked and walked. I turned around and saw a sign directing me to Quillota. I was outside city limits. Oops. It was getting dark, what time did they stop running? What if I got stuck? What if I was robbed right now and no one knew where I was and had no means to buy a bus ticket or make a phonecall? Then I found them. My bus, and it was a true bus, probably had 60 people on it. Really. I can't believe they let me on. The ticket guy smashed his way through to collect payment. It took him half an hour to make it to the back of the bus and return. I have never seen people have to stand for a long bus ride before, but at least 20 did, probably more. On short commuter micro rides yes, but not on long bus trips. It was intriguing though, but after the hour, by which time a seat finally opened and there was no one else to whom I could give it, my legs were not thrilled. The seat for those last 3 minutes was divine. Trip successful. And I didn't even get lost. Well not completely. As long as your definition of being lost is not being able to find your way back, in place of not knowing where you are, which are two very distinct things, then I am in good shape.

Monday, November 2, 2009

undercover Chilean

I want to go under cover as a Chilean. I am not sure where this idea came from, but I think it would be fun to see how different life would be, to see how different normal human interaction would be, to understand people's perceptions of me as a different person, not as a visitor/tourist.

Now to think how I would do that I have to have an idea of what a Chilean is. First of all, Chileans speak Spanish. I'm working on that, but still can't shake the accent or pronounce the 'rr' or 'll.' My efforts to improve my production of these sounds have resulted in no improvement whatsoever. Next, customs, everything from eating with your non-fork hand on the table to knowing where to catch a micro. I think I would do ok in this department, but this one has the most potential to actually be done well I think.

Lastly looks. This gets complicated. What does a Chilean look like? Well, first of all, they are not all of the same descent, indigenous, european, wherever. So of course there is a tremendous variation. Here are my perceptions, from my extremely limited observations during a short period of time and in limited locations. I perceive Chileans as having darker skin than me. Usually. Many also have lighter skin, but most slightly darker than mine, but not as dark as closer to the equator in more tropical countries. Next, hair. I think that most Chileans have darker hair than me. Some have the same or lighter, but generally it is dark, thick, and gorgeous. I love the black black black hair a lot. Eyes too, most have brown eyes, and very few, at least in central Chile, have light eyes. And they seem to prefer contacts in place of glasses as well. Finally, I think Chileans are shorter in stature than [north]americans. I am really tall for a girl here, and fairly tall in the US. A lot of Chilean boys are shorter than me, but of course not all. By boys I mean adult men. Hmm, I forgot clothing, but this is not that different than the US I don't think. Tight jeans and dark colors seem to be trendy, but really I am crap at judging this.

In conclusion, I could dye my hair, put in [color-change prescription??]contacts, improve my Spanish, and dress better, but I would probably not seem any more Chilean. Do I stand out a lot now as obviously not Chilean? Very much, if I open my mouth. If I am not talking, I still come across as gringa for my light hair and eyes, but there are Chileans that look like me. More interesting probably is the concept of wanting to "go undercover."

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Juan Jose and I had an interesting conversation about those places so fascinating to me; the forbidden places. Where I can't walk by myself, even during the day. These are generally the poorer areas, on the edges of the city, many of the higher places on the hills. Some hills are entirely safe even at the top, but others are entirely flaite. Before I get more descriptive, know two things: 1. that these places exist all over the world, yes, even in the developed nation of the United States of America, and 2. I have never been to where I am about to describe, so know that this is a highly skewed view which was formed on the basis from many conversations with people who have seen or live near places like this. Therefore, I will not claim to "know" much about which I am talking.

The poor sectors are most dangerous because they house not only the poor, but the flaite as well. The flaite live there, and their activities originate there. Drugs are rampant. They are not nice places to visit I imagine, nor are they remotely safe for me, but they fascinate me. Why are they like this? How did they form and why don't they get better?

The most interesting aspect for me is the following. Flaite knife and shoot each other and will attack you for your stuff, but this depends on who you are. If you are poor, they have no reason to attack you. If you are Chilean but from another neighborhood, that is reason. If you are a 'blonde' green-eyed gringa, that is very good reason. But if you are Chilean and live close to this place, and have entered sufficiently that your face is known, you are respected. I could not believe that this could be the case. But often it is a respect out of fear. Flaite know that you have family that can find them and retaliate, so they don't touch you. You don't touch them because, well, they are dangerous. I can go to some of these sectors by day, to know and seek and understand the reality, but only some, by day, and accompanied by a Chilean which I have described. But there are some places exist which I absolutely cannot go. This idea fascinates me, that a place can be so dangerous.

How can these places exist? Why don't the police go in there and arrest people? They can't. They would be killed, just because they are police. They can enter most places by day, but by night no, they would go in vain. And so, these places will continue to exist. Luckily though I gather that they are relatively contained; I am not going to find myself caught in a shootout because I won't be in the place where it happens, and they don't have reason to hurt me.

I want to understand this phenomenon. I can't though, because I don't live there. But I want to understand more than I do now, know why it is the way it is, know the people and the places that know one visits. Don't worry, I won't go wandering about seeking drug lords, nor will I really go to these places at all, only safer ones with Chilean guides. I promise.

asado halloween

I finally made it to an asado, a BBQ, my first in Chile. Considering the popularity of the asado, and the fact that I was in Chile for 18 de septiembre (for independence day) it is remarkable that I never made it to one before. And ridiculous. Nevertheless, I made it, on my first trip into cerro Placeres. It was not incredibly different from a [north]american BBQ, except we ate choripanes with mayonnaise, which are sausage-hotdog things on bread. And potatoes, with mayonnaise. And rice, molded into a... cake. With mayonnaise. Ok so the food and language was different, but the idea was essentially the same. Apparently Chileans are not fans of spicy food; I was the only one who was able to comfortably eat the spicy pebre. I was blown away by the welcome I received, when I knew only one person in the entire group, especially since I did not know the owner of the house, and everyone already knew each other because they were in the same band. It didn't matter, Chilean hospitality still reigned. They wouldn't stop feeding me even though they had no idea who I was.

Oh yeah, it was halloween. It in no way seemed like halloween. I didn't think about it all day until the I got a card from my family in the US, with my rabbit and a pumpkin and transparent ghost. Then I forgot again until the asado, when trick-or-treaters started making their rounds. It was much the same process, but they said "dulce o travesura?" instead and it sounded different, a different tone or inflection or something, but the same idea. Somehow this warm oceanside palmtree environment with a sunset after 8:00 did not seen anything like halloween, and it didn't seem like we should have it here. It is something I missed celebrating, the middle of my favorite time of year full of running and hawks and cold wind and holidays, ending with Christmas as the big finale, but I am here right now celebrating different things, and it is still awesome.

I kind of don't like the idea that Halloween is in Chile at all. It is a gringo holiday celebrated by gringos in gringolandia. But it has caught on in Chile, not as strong, but it's here. I have this sense of my culture spilling over, and I don't like that because I want Chilean culture to be Chilean culture and not [north]american culture. We're in Chile! It seems that younger Chileans like it. Many kids dress up, and my generation hosts parties. It is a fun time. So I have... mixed feelings on Halloween in Chile. I understand if Chileans do not want to celebrate it though. I have talked to many who like it and many who don't. Well, I can't really understand, I am not a Chileans watching a [north]american holiday infiltrate, I am a [north]american who normally celebrates the holiday with gusto, so I can't speak from understanding, only from observation and the knowledge that my point of view will always be a little different.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

ruido subterraneo

They say whenever their is strange weather the next big earthquake will happen. And by they I mean the Chileans who remember the 1985 earthquake. The weather that day was unseasonably warm, and everything was strange; the clouds, the wind, the heat, none of it made sense. The last two days were exactly like this. Everything about the weather was out of the ordinary, for one, the fact that it reached 30 degrees C (86 Fahrenheit) in the spring was odd. Everywhere I went anyone over the age of 25 was talking about earthquakes.

They talked not just for the weather but for the tremors. Oddly enough, during these two days we had several tremors, a couple fairly strong ones. Only those two days, the ones with the weird weather, then they stopped. There was an earthquake in Japan.

I want to understand what it is like to experience an earthquake. I want to know the sensation that everything is chaos, that the ground is fluid energy. Of course I would never wish for the death and destruction and fear that an earthquake causes. But I still want to understand what it is like. When someone tells me about it, I can't relate to it at all. They ask me what we have in Pennsylvania alone these lines (tornadoes, etc.) I answer that we have nothing remotely dangerous at all. We don't feel any of the tremors in Recreo because it is built on solid rock, and so this hill is more stable and less sensitive to tremors than others. Some hills are much more unstable, especially in Valparaíso, where cerro Yungay is not even a natural hill, but created from artificial materials. It will literally slide in the ocean during a large earthquake. Many of the houses in Valpo are not very stable either. Ironic, as I am the only one that wants to feel them and I can't because my hill is too solid; I only feel the really strong ones, or rather I only felt the one strong one a while ago.

The noise. I want to hear the noise, the subterranean grinding of the earth and the energy waves that flash to the surface. Every natural disaster has a distinct noise, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes. I want to know what it is like to hear that terrible yelling from within the earth and understand why it is so horrifying.

el weon de gas

There are these trucks, carts too, that drive around the cerros of Valparaíso with canisters of gas, for use in kitchens, to heat the califont, etc. Estadounidenses, remember the ice cream man? He drives around playing music so everyone knows he is the neighborhood, and those within earshot run over to the truck. Well, this is the same idea, but with canisters of gas. They bang a wrench or something against the canisters, and so attract customers with their incessant rattling. I have heard the sound before but never understood why until one drove by at the mosaic pilars and I bothered to ask what the noise was for.